I like salacious rumours and innuendo about public figures as much as the next guy — heck, probably more than the next guy (I am a member of the media, after all). But all of this Jimmy Wales stuff just seems really over the top to me, and barely even relevant to anything that really matters. I know (or at least I think I know, thanks to Valleywag) that Jimmy got involved with Rachel Marsden and it ended badly, and he may or may not have tried to intervene to clean up her Wikipedia entry.

I also know, or think I know, that there was some kind of brouhaha over things that Jimmy billed the foundation for that were really private expenses, something that Wikipedians appear to have tried (and failed) to keep as an internal matter, and that Jimmy says it’s all cleared up now. And in the latest allegation, Jimmy apparently offered to clean up a Novell scientist’s entry in Wikipedia in return for a donation.

Are some of these things bad? Maybe. Personally, I couldn’t care less whether Jimbo is sleeping with Rachel Marsden (other than the fact that she appears to be insane), or what they say to each other in their IM chats. I don’t care whether Jimbo has had marital problems, or whether he’s had disagreements with the foundation over his expenses. All that says to me is that he’s human, and has made mistakes.

But the implication is that because he’s made some mistakes in his personal life, that somehow Wikipedia itself is demeaned or invalidated in some way, as though someone had discovered that Mother Theresa was skimming money, or running drugs through the orphanage. To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show, if it ever was. What he does in his personal life is of no interest to me, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia.

About the author

Mathew 2430 posts

I'm a Toronto-based senior writer with Fortune magazine, and my favorite things to write about are social technology, media and the evolution of online behavior

13 Responses to “Jimmy Wales is not Wikipedia”
  1. Good one Matthew, couldn't agree with you more.

  2. Jimmy Wales is to Wikipedia what da Vinci was to the Mona Lisa or what everyone who creates something is in relation to whatever he or she created. You can not diminish his role as creator of Wikipedia by stating; “To me, Jimmy Wales is nothing more than the guy who set Wikipedia in motion; it has become much more than a one-man show”. You mix up a. creation and b. the effect of a creation
    in order to deal with c. your projections of Jimmy Wales. If you state that your not interested in his personal life than start by making the distinction between a & b. If you do so c. will automatically disappear.

    Can you explain why you write “nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to what matters about Wikipedia” without writing about the persona Jimmy Wales? After all…he is the one who invented Wikipedia.

  3. […] Jimmy Wales Fiasco A Missed Opportunity For Google News March 6th, 2008 at 8:23 am A few days ago, you may have heard about the whole Jimmy Wales / Wikipedia fiasco — its hard to believe that you didn’t as it hit a lot of major mainstream media outlets.  The substance of the fiasco (if such a phrase can make sense in a non-oxymoronical kind of way) to me was not so much that Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia may have had an affair, but that he may have used his influence to affect a Wikipedia entry, that of Rachel Marsden, the woman he is thought to have an affair with.  Given that Wikipedia is meant to be the towering triumph of the wisdom of crowds, I think exposing this link is a somewhat worthwhile one, although the affair in and of itself … eh, not so much. […]

  4. Hi Mathew, have to disagree with you on this one. The personality at the forefront of the non-profit needs to be above reproach. If you've ever had the pleasure of working for or with a non-profit, to get 501(c)(3) status is actually a big deal, can be lost (taken away by the IRS) and when people in charge blur the lines between for profit and non-profit, it hurts all non-profits. Most non-profits toil tirelessly to do some good in the world. They have a lot of regulations on their shoulders and a lot of tedious and never ending fundraising to do. They struggle as much to get the money to survive as they do to continue their actual operations.

    On the Wikipedia side, having tried to “learn” the Wikipedia way and edit things, only to spend a lot of time learning their weird formatting and rules, spending time editing and adding things only to have them deleted within 5 minutes from some editor nazi who gives no other reason than “this violates the terms” and how incredibly frustrating this is, WIkipedia is used by MANY people to be a voice of fact and data. It's referenced, it's quoted, it's used as a tool for many different things. Thus, it should be above reproach and this includes the leaders at its helm. If they can ever show me that some things on Wikipedia are fair, I would have a better opinion of them. But they don't, and trying to get into Wikipedia is difficult especially when I've seen cases of two companies who do the same thing – one gets an entry and the other does not. Does that economically hurt the one not there? It might!

    These accusations about anyone from the org making strong “hints” that donations = better profiles, if true, is a blatant violation of the spirit (if not the legal) terms of agreement for what Wikipedia is, and for what it got its 501c3 status for. That friends can get better wikipedia entries dilutes the value of Wikipedia. I don't know whether the allegations are true, but if they are, they have nothing to do with who is sleeping with who but rather that the entries can be bribed, bought/paid for or even influenced – and that makes it wrong.

    That being said, the issue here seems to be the blurring the of lines between the non-profit regulations that thousands of other non-profits must live and abide by.

    Scandals involving the Red Cross, Goodwill, United Way and others that hurt the organizations' reputations and brought individuals down, as well as making people (rightfully) question whether their donations and dollars were being spent appropriately, and whether the tax exempt status is deserved.

  5. “Nobel Prize winner’s entry”?? Were you smoking some of Merkey's peyote when you wrote that? Merkey has never been anywhere near a Nobel Prize.

  6. Nice post Mathew.. this a very good post.. Keep it up..

  7. Nice post Mathew.. this a very good post.. Keep it up..

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